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The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie

portable veblenWhether you appreciate economist Thorstein Veblen and his thoughts on conspicuous consumption (detailed in The Theory of the Leisure Class), or even if you have never heard of either him or his ideas, The Portable Veblen may be the book for you. 


The novel opens with a couple’s engagement. “Veblen Amundsen-Hovda, independent behaviorist, experienced cheerer-upper, and freelance self” becomes engaged to ”Paul Vreeland, MD, FAAN, FANA, FACNS (he loved the growing train following his name, all engines, and no caboose).”  Obviously, the two are very different from one another, but they are very much in love.  Veblen also loves nature and all things natural, and, in particular, a squirrel living in her attic, with whom she communicates.  Paul, who grew up with parents who were good hippies, does not love the squirrel and is trying to trap it.


The book is set in California and describes the contrasting cultures of money and anti-establishment values in an original way.  Veblen tries to live up to her ideals, “not just the conventional ones” finding her best self by studying Thorstein Veblen’s portrait and talking with the squirrel. (“If you love it enough, anything will talk with you” is the epigraph by George Washington Carver that begins the book.)  Paul’s intelligence and ideals lead him to a deal with the Department of Defense to work on his invention, a device that minimizes battlefield brain trauma.  Paul is talking with the government and big money.


The Portable Veblen is a small gem, a love story, delightfully well-written, full of ideas and humor. 


Another little gem with some similarities is The Sage of Waterloo: A Tale by Leona Francombe.  It is an original story, told by a rabbit, but full of history.  (Imagine Watership Down by Richard Adams, but much shorter.)  This tale is set in the fields where the battle of Waterloo was fought and contrasts natural beauty with the destruction of war.  


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